En Route to South Pole, Witnessing New Zealand’s Artful Destruction

Posted November 24th, 2015 at 12:15 pm (UTC-5)
1 comment

Art and destruction in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Art and destruction in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Refael Klein)

It takes 21 hours of flying to reach Christchurch, New Zealand from Denver, Colorado.

That’s a lot of time in a small seat, and no matter how many laps you make through the aisles, or how frequently you stretch your back, you walk off the plane with sore a body and a head that is throbbing like an inflated balloon

As I’ve learned from my experiences on long ship voyages, it is imperative, upon arrival in a new port, to seek out a libation, be it coffee, booze, or some other epicurean delight.

After a massive earthquake 4 years ago, Christchuch, New Zealand, is becoming a visual arts capital. (Photo by Refael Klein)

After a massive earthquake 4 years ago, Christchuch, New Zealand, is becoming a visual arts capital. (Photo by Refael Klein)

So, from the international airport, to taxi stand, to the Pavillions Hotel, I begin my journey downtown in search of something that will provide me with a level of enjoyment equivalent to the magnitude of discomfort experienced during my trans-Pacific flight.

A 2-mile walk from the hotel, I find CBD, a speakeasy-esque bar, run by a young Cook Islander who holds the distinction of being one of the top mixologists in the country.

Four years ago, Christchurch was hit by a massive earthquake, a 6.3 on the Richter Scale. Two-thirds of the city was destroyed and the devastation is still apparent today in the buildings with crumbling facades and empty gravel lots filled with twisted rebar and broken concrete pylons.

Despite the destruction, rebuilding efforts are well underway — I counted six cranes from my first-floor hotel room window — although, ultimately, it will be years before everything returns to “normal.”

A broken urban landscape and depreciated rents have meant an influx of creatives and artists. The city has embraced the trend and is becoming a visual arts capital.

Money has been poured into public art, and abandoned lots and buildings have been loaned to emerging artists for use as super-sized canvases and pop-up sites for sculptural installations.

The result is a massive post-apocalyptic Storm King, curated with such perfection that one has trouble distinguishing between what is art and what is destruction.

Shipping containers used both for art and rebuilding in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Shipping containers used both for art and rebuilding in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Outside CBD, the streets are quiet. Everyone is out of town for the Labor Day weekend and those who are still in the city are home watching the New Zealand versus Australia rugby game.

With only a few pedestrians in sight, I feel as if I’m wandering through the National Gallery after closing. Just me, the wind and the graffiti. It is so quiet, I can hear my thoughts echoing off the sidewalk. I’m witnessing the rebirth of a city, a moment in time that is too mundane for locals to see, and that few tourists will ever experience.

CBD is good and the bartender takes me on a tour of some of New Zealand’s best micro-distilleries. He is also kind enough to give me a list or his favorite area restaurants and bars. You can learn a lot about a food scene by scouring blogs and websites (which I did), but nothing is better than local, “industry” knowledge.

On this particular evening, the “industry” steers me six blocks east to 27 Steps, dutifully named for the 27-step staircase that takes you from an unassuming foyer to a nicely-adorned restaurant with 40 seats. The food is good and, suffice it to say, will provide me with fond memories when I find myself knee-deep in canned fruit and frozen veggies.

Look for Refael Klein’s weekly blogs from the South Pole here on Science World.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

One response to “En Route to South Pole, Witnessing New Zealand’s Artful Destruction”

  1. jake says:

    I opened up gmail to write to you, as i had seen a short piece on the noon news about a wind project in the spole. The weather, while windy seemed habitable with the appropriate gear. Know that I’m thinking about you, bragging about you to people I know and look forward to your blog. >J